The New York Review of Books
The Vitality of the ‘Berlin Painter’
May 24th, 2017, 01:00 PM
The master referred to as the Berlin Painter, who lived in Athens in the early fifth century BC, was an artist whose name, nationality, and even gender remain unknown, but whose distinctive and confident illustration in the red-figure style stands out as clearly as any signature. The first phase of the Berlin Painter’s career coincided with the birth of democracy in Athens, and the early works—which portray ordinary people caught in simple moments of daily life in much the same way that other vase painters treated gods and heroes—demonstrate the humanism of that political evolution.
The Art of Difference
May 24th, 2017, 01:00 PM
The story Diane Arbus told with her camera was about shape-shifting: in order to understand difference one had to not only not dismiss it, but try to become it. “I don’t like to arrange things,” she once said. “If I stand in front of something, instead of arranging it, I arrange myself.”
More Dangerous Than Trump
May 23rd, 2017, 01:00 PM
On May 20, Jeff Sessions completed his first hundred days as attorney general. His record thus far shows a determined effort to dismantle the Justice Department’s protections of civil rights and civil liberties. Reversing course from the Obama Justice Department on virtually every front, he is seeking to return us not just to the pre-Obama era but to the pre-civil-rights era.
A Better Way to Choose Presidents
May 23rd, 2017, 01:00 PM
The most obvious rationale for reforming the Electoral College is to make it conform to the principle of “one citizen, one vote.” The Electoral College under current rules violates this principle; a vote by a Californian doesn’t count the same as one by an Ohioan. A number of readers have pointed out, however, that there is a more subtle reason for reforming the Electoral College, one connected to majority rule.
The Achievement of Chinua Achebe
May 22nd, 2017, 01:00 PM
Chinua Achebe found a way to represent for a global Anglophone audience the diction of his Igbo homeland, allowing readers of English elsewhere to experience a particular relationship to language and the world in a way that made it seem quite natural—transparent, one might almost say. A measure of his achievement is that Achebe found an African voice in English that is so natural its artifice eludes us.
Martin Luther’s Burning Questions
May 21st, 2017, 01:00 PM
The posting of Martin Luther’s ninety-five theses in 1517 set off the spark that ignited the Protestant Reformation, and the Reformation in turn marked a fundamental stage in the forging of a collective German identity. A series of Luther celebrations to mark the event’s five hundredth anniversary provide a fresh, insightful view into Luther’s life and times and the vast, unpredictable forces his rebellion unleashed.
Mexico in the Full Light of Day
May 21st, 2017, 01:00 PM
It was her reading of Calderón de la Barca’s Life in Mexico that in 1946 convinced Sybille Bedford to travel to Mexico, where she wrote her first book, A Visit to Don Otavio. Like her predecessor, Sybille Bedford uses all of her senses to describe Mexico. Her animated scenes and anecdotes are perspicacious and poetic, never condescending or merely picturesque. Every page contains some stylistic or factual surprise.
Hungary: The War on Education
May 20th, 2017, 01:00 PM
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, long a pioneer in anti-liberal government in Europe and an admirer of Donald Trump, is making a wager that a crackdown on universities is the latest addition to the increasingly sophisticated repertoire of right-wing populism—with implications that go far beyond Hungary’s borders.
Putin’s Monster
May 19th, 2017, 01:00 PM
Vladimir Putin and Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov have long had a Faustian bargain. Putin counts on Kadyrov's ruthlessness to keep potential unrest in his Muslim-majority republic, where the Kremlin has fought two wars, from coming to the surface. In return, the Kremlin funnels vast sums of money into Chechnya—by one estimate one billion dollars annually, much of which goes into Kadyrov’s own pocket. Kadyrov runs the republic as his personal fiefdom.
Mexico: A Voice Against the Darkness
May 18th, 2017, 01:00 PM
On the day he was killed, Mexican journalist Javier Valdez had just come from a meeting with the Riodoce newspaper staff about his security situation; he should leave Sinaloa, at least for a while, everyone agreed. He was intercepted by gunmen on his way home.
How He Used Facebook to Win
May 18th, 2017, 01:00 PM
That the Republicans didn’t lose can be attributed in large measure to their expert manipulation of social media: Donald Trump is our first Facebook president. His team figured out how to use all the marketing tools of Facebook, as well as Google, the two biggest advertising platforms in the world, to successfully sell a candidate that the majority of Americans did not want. They understood that some numbers matter more than others—in this case the number of angry, largely rural, disenfranchised potential Trump voters—and that Facebook, especially, offered effective methods for pursuing and capturing them.
How to Imagine Consciousness
May 18th, 2017, 01:00 PM
To the Editors: I agree with Thomas Nagel, along with probably 99.9 percent of humanity, that we really do experience “color, flavor, sound, touch, etc.” We don’t just say we do. But, probably along with 99.9 percent of neuroscientists, I don't think “the trouble is [Dennett's claim]...that nothing whatever is revealed to the first-person point of view but a ‘version’ of the neural machinery.”
The End of an Artist
May 17th, 2017, 01:00 PM
Few filmmakers meant as much to his country as Andrzej Wajda did to Poland. Both a world-famous director and a national conscience, Wajda—who died last October at age ninety—was a singular artist. It is appropriate then that his final film, hauntingly titled Afterimage, would be a drama concerning the last years of another Polish artist, the abstract painter Władysław Strzemiński.
Will Ukraine Ever Change?
May 17th, 2017, 01:00 PM
Walk around Rivne, a town of a quarter-million people in western Ukraine, a four-hour drive from Kiev, and you could easily get the impression that things are going far better than the country’s official statistics indicate they should be. To a certain extent this is not surprising: economists calculate that between 40 and 50 percent of Ukraine’s economy is off the books, because so much of it is cash-based and it is easy to evade taxes. But a closer look at Rivne tells another story. Along with lots of new houses, one sees fancy new SUVs driven by beefy, shaven-headed men who are accompanied by glamorous high-heeled girls—one of many indications of the extent to which the town has been taken over by organized crime.
The Bruegel of Bendel’s
May 16th, 2017, 01:00 PM
There is a larger cultural dimension to much of what we see in Florine Stehttheimer’s paintings at the Jewish Museum: the skyscrapers, the department stores, the African-American jazz, the shifting gender roles. Viewers in search of the perfect counterpoint to the Stettheimer retrospective need only walk a block south to the razzle-dazzle show “The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s.”
Syria: Stories from the Barrel of a Cannon
May 15th, 2017, 01:00 PM
In the Syrian writer Osama Alomar’s tales, the norm of social behavior isn’t justice or civility, but eat or be eaten. Politics is Darwinism in disguise and the only true law is universal inequity.
A Parliament of Owls
May 14th, 2017, 01:00 PM
Humans have always noticed owls. One of the earliest examples of Paleolithic art is an owl engraved on the wall of the Chauvet cave in France. Among the peculiarities of owl physiognomy is that owls have both eyes facing forward, unlike most birds. They can also turn their heads 270 degrees (making up for their inability to move their eyes). It has been easy to imagine that these creatures of darkness, mostly experienced as an ominous cry in the night or a disconcerting stare during the day, have personalities, and malign ones at that.
The Autocrat’s Language
May 13th, 2017, 01:00 PM
Donald Trump has an instinct for doing violence to language. Using words to lie destroys language. Using words to cover up lies, however subtly, destroys language. Validating incomprehensible drivel with polite reaction also destroys language. This isn’t merely a question of the prestige of the writing art or the credibility of the journalistic trade: it is about the basic survival of the public sphere.
The Universe in a Nutshell
May 12th, 2017, 01:00 PM
The gothic boxwood miniatures currently exhibited at the Cloisters—thought to be in large part the work of a single individual in the Netherlands in the sixteenth century—are so breathtakingly intricate, the minuscule scenes in prayer beads and altarpieces rendered so exquisitely, that any viewer should be prepared to gasp, “How did they do it?" These diminutive objects have an impact for which the viewer who expects merely to marvel at technical virtuosity will be unprepared.
The Body and Us
May 11th, 2017, 01:00 PM
Parks: It seems to me you’re still avoiding my main question. If I am the world I experience, what is this sense I have of being a subject separate from the world? How can I be both subject and object? Manzotti: What you call a subject is nothing but a particular combination of objects that are relative to another object, your body. Being a subject means no more than being experience, i.e. a collection of objects, relative to your body. You ask how, if this is the case, the feeling of “subjectivity” can arise. My answer is: thanks to two misconceptions.
Trump’s Constitutional Crisis
May 10th, 2017, 01:00 PM
On May 9, in a twist that would have seemed far-fetched even on House of Cards, President Trump fired James Comey as director of the FBI on the recommendation of Jeff Sessions, his attorney general. The notion that Trump and Sessions took action against Comey because of his unfairness to Clinton may be the most brazen effort at “fake news” or “alternative facts” yet from a president who has shown no reluctance to lie, even and especially when the truth is plain for everyone to see.
Catching Up to James Baldwin
May 10th, 2017, 01:00 PM
The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race, edited by the novelist and memoirist Jesmyn Ward, originated in her search for community and consolation after the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012.
More Is More
May 10th, 2017, 01:00 PM
Even if you think yourself a reluctant shopper, consider all of the resources used to create our material world: the steel to build our homes, the natural gas to fire our furnaces, the aluminum in our smartphones and tablets. In the world’s richest countries, consumption has ballooned by over a third in the past few decades to the point that in 2010, each person in the thirty-four richest nations consumed over 220 pounds of stuff every day. How did we come to be such voracious, irrepressible consumers? And how has all of this consuming changed the world? Those are the questions at the heart of Frank Trentmann’s Empire of Things, each of its nearly seven hundred pages of text jam-packed with telling facts and counterintuitive provocations.
Down the Path of Obsession
May 9th, 2017, 01:00 PM
James Gray’s film The Lost City of Z is distinguished by three things—a kind of ethnographer’s fascination with the behavior of men in groups; beautiful photography of the forest lushness of the Amazon basin, roughly two-thirds the size of the United States; and the driving force it gives to Percy H. Fawcett's determination to do something that would dazzle the world.
Calculating Women
May 7th, 2017, 01:00 PM
Although advances in science and technology are often portrayed as the work of solitary men—for example, Isaac Newton, Thomas Edison, and Albert Einstein—science has always been a collective enterprise, dependent on many individuals who work behind the scenes. This has become increasingly true as more scientists work on large research projects funded by governments and staffed by hundreds of technicians. Yet despite the collaborative nature of science, for too much of its history the work of women and scientists of color was exploited, deemed rudimentary, and unacknowledged.
The Earthy Glories of Ancient China
May 6th, 2017, 01:00 PM
The fascinating exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Qin and Han Dynasty artifacts presents objects that lay buried in tombs for many centuries. Having been beautifully preserved underground for thousands of years, these objects delight us still. It is easy to forget that the past remains another country. But perhaps it isn't a complete illusion.
The Disasters of War
May 5th, 2017, 01:00 PM
It comes as a surprise to a British reader to find World War I routinely referred to, by Americans, as America’s “forgotten war.” The British would never use such a term. It is true that certain significant aspects of the war have faded from the collective memory. Every one of us can remember why World War II was fought (“Hitler had to be stopped”), but few can do the same for World War I. Yes, the archduke had been shot in Sarajevo, but who the archduke was, and why his assassination led to general war, and why the war was or wasn’t worth fighting—that takes a rarer expertise to answer.
Selling Her Suffering
May 4th, 2017, 01:00 PM
The new Hulu TV series The Handmaid’s Tale has been enthusiastically acclaimed as a feminist classic. Fortunately for the show’s producers, if not for the rest of us, this scenario seems uncannily timely, given how many recent events suggest that, if men like Mike Pence and Mitch McConnell have their way, we might end up living in a dystopia of our own. But gradually it occurred to me that I was watching an orgy of violence against women—promoted and marketed as high-minded, politically astute popular entertainment.
Trump: The New Deportation Threat
May 4th, 2017, 01:00 PM
Since the first days of the Trump administration, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been conducting what it calls targeted enforcement operations around the country. About 680 people were picked up during five days in February in coordinated actions in five cities. In March ICE announced at least 729 arrests in operations ranging from Virginia and Delaware to Oklahoma, Nevada, and the Pacific Northwest. Local news reports of smaller actions appear daily. The agency said that those detained included many immigrants convicted of serious crimes, such as aggravated assault, spousal battery, and sex offenses with minors. However, many of the people who have been rounded up do not appear to fit into the categories of malicious lawbreakers described by Trump and his homeland security secretary.
The English Sources of the Bill of Rights
May 4th, 2017, 01:00 PM
To the Editors: In his—as always—thought-provoking review of Akhil Reed Amar’s essays on the US Constitution, Jeremy Waldron suggests the possibility of reading the Fourth Amendment disjunctively, so as to permit warrantless searches so long as these are reasonable—something only capable of being decided ex post facto.
Saving Lives in Endless Wars
May 4th, 2017, 01:00 PM
To the Editors: In his review of Rosa Brooks’s How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything [NYR, March 9], Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth focuses on the current use of the “law-enforcement standards” that US President Barack Obama laid out in 2013 on the use of aerial drones for killing terrorist suspects. Mr. Roth highlights how difficult it is for many such raids to meet Mr. Obama’s rigorous standards, but he astonishingly does not venture anywhere near the fundamental question of whether US exercise of “law-enforcement” practices to launch attacks in a mounting number of countries might contradict international laws on sovereignty and armed conflict.
Should Humans Colonize Space?
May 4th, 2017, 01:00 PM
To the Editors: In “The Green Universe: A Vision” [NYR, October 13, 2016], Freeman Dyson considers topics from the costs of space exploration to the propagation of life in outer space. We take issue with some of Professor Dyson’s assumptions and assertions.
Playing Cards with Pushkin
May 4th, 2017, 01:00 PM
To the Editors: In Gary Saul Morson’s amusing article on Pushkin [NYR, March 23] there are a few inaccuracies. When they ridiculed biographical criticism, Russian Formalists did not imagine an article entitled “Did Pushkin Smoke?” as Professor Morson states, but made fun of the old school Pushkinist Nikolai Lerner who published a notorious short piece under this very title in 1913.
Iran: The Miracle That Wasn’t
May 3rd, 2017, 01:00 PM
Iran’s presidential election on May 19 will in all likelihood be won by the incumbent, the moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani. In 2015, two years after he came to power, Rouhani pulled the country back from the brink of confrontation with the West when he guided Iran toward the historic nuclear deal with the Obama administration. But the economic miracle that was promised by the Rouhani government hasn’t happened, and the sense of anti-climax is palpable—a disillusionment that has broadened into a general contempt for politics, politicians, and promises that aren’t kept.
In the Horrorscape of Aleppo
May 2nd, 2017, 01:00 PM
In Damascus, shells explode in the Christian neighborhoods closest to the eastern front lines. In Aleppo, artillery batters opposition bases along the western frontier with Idlib province. Both cities’ exhausted citizens have cause to fear for their country’s uncertain future.
The Puzzle of Irving Penn
May 2nd, 2017, 01:00 PM
“I’m a surprisingly limited photographer,” Penn insisted to me, “and I’ve learned not to go beyond my capacity. I’ve tried a few times to depart from what I know I can do, and I’ve failed.” Yet it is difficult to deny that Penn was the supreme studio photographer of the twentieth century. His artistry both emerged from and depended on his very specific, highly aestheticized commercial work.
A Man Alone in a Comic Book
May 1st, 2017, 01:00 PM
Guy Delisle’s new book, Hostage, is his first nonfiction graphic narrative in which he is not a character. Christophe André’s first-person voice, matched to Delisle’s drawings tells the story of André’s nearly four months as a hostage after being abducted while on his very first mission as an administrator for Doctors Without Borders. He begins in the past tense but soon switches to the present, narrating day by day the moments and events that structure his experience.
The Painter and the Novelist
April 30th, 2017, 01:00 PM
The Bloomsbury painter Vanessa Bell, née Stephen, lived most of her life (1879–1961) in the chilly, concealing shade of her younger sister, Virginia Woolf—the last twenty years following Virginia’s suicide in 1941. Though the attention paid to the Bloomsbury Group seems to be waning on both sides of the Atlantic, there is currently a surge of interest in Bell.
Should the Chinese Government Be in American Classrooms?
April 28th, 2017, 01:00 PM
While the rapid spread of Confucius Institutes in the US has been impressive, in recent years their unusual reach in the American higher education system has become increasingly controversial: these institutes are an official agency of the Chinese government, which provides a major share, sometimes virtually all, of the funds needed to run them. The National Association of Scholars, a conservative group whose members are mostly American university professors, has recently issued the most complete report on the CIs to date; they recommend that the institutions either be closed or reformed.
Can China Replace the West?
April 27th, 2017, 01:00 PM
Gideon Rachman’s Easternization, his new survey of a transformed Asia, admirably does what so little writing on foreign affairs attempts. It treats with equal facility economics, geopolitics, security, enough history for needed background, official thinking, and public attitudes. Rachman, chief foreign affairs columnist for the Financial Times, has an eye for the telling statistic and for the memorable detail that makes it stick. He packs an enormous amount of information into a short book and opens windows of understanding for nonexperts onto this immensely important three fifths of humanity. And while not directly concerned with the new American administration, the story he tells shows well why Donald Trump’s foreign policies could end so badly for the United States and for the world.
The Street with Trotsky’s Bones
April 25th, 2017, 01:00 PM
I told my children while pointing to the weirdly shaped Polyforum building, the three of us sitting down in the backseat of a cab, feeling a bit foreign in the city in which we had all been born but had not lived for a long time: “The guy who did that thing is the same one who fired the machine gun whose bullet holes we saw in Trotsky’s bedroom, near your grandparents’ house.” They were, of course, immediately interested in the building. I grew up in the neighborhood of El Carmen, on Calle Viena: a quiet, middle-class, residential road that happens to have, at one end, an insane monument engraved with the hammer and sickle: Leon Trotsky’s grave.
The Virtuoso of Compassion
April 25th, 2017, 01:00 PM
When Caravaggio shows a humble disciple or an innkeeper, he shows them as full human beings. When he shows suffering, he stands his ground rather than shrinking back. Along with the disciple who screams as Jesus is dragged off to prison and Jesus himself feeling both the kiss of Judas and the blow of Pilate’s thug in a single instant, he paints himself right into The Taking of Christ and its profound tragedy: the figure on the far right of the painting is the artist himself, holding up a lantern.